The Marías Come Home

After a global tour, L.A.’s own pop stars the Marías carry their Grammy-nominated escapism back to the Greek

María Zardoya is ready to come back to L.A. On the road since January, the Marías frontwoman has toured endlessly, on the way battling bronchitis, E. coli, norovirus, and COVID-19. “It is very tiring, mentally and physically,” she says when reached by phone. “Being put back into the ailments and exposed to so many people, it does take a toll.” 

But the Marías are determined to make up for an almost two-year stage absence. Finishing their marathon trip strong includes an important October 1 stop at the Greek Theatre.

A homecoming at the Greek is fitting because the Marías owe their success to L.A. And by many metrics, they’re having their biggest year yet. Zardoya and the group’s second face—the producer and multi-instrumentalist Josh Conway—spent the beginning of their lockdown writing and producing their debut album, CINEMA, in their Hollywood Hills apartment. When the world began to reopen, they and their bandmates finally had a chance to perform those songs live. Then, suddenly, the Marías found themselves on the set of Jimmy Kimmel Live! and at Coachella, collaborating with Bad Bunny on the hit “Otro Atardecer” and earning a Grammy nom.  

How they reached these heights is cinematic itself. After driving here from Snellville, Georgia, in 2016, the Puerto Rico-born Zardoya had a Hollywood-level meet-cute with the L.A.-bred Conway at the Kibitz Room, the venue attached to Canter’s deli. She was playing an acoustic set; he was running sound. 

“Making music that is dreamy is a political act right now. We’re in a time where everybody wants to escape.”

A year into their romance and creative partnership, they made the songs that became their EP Superclean, a two-volume soundscape that thrummed with the trippy magic of a daydream and captivated the industry—even if it was hard to categorize. While Zardoya grew up on reggaeton, pop, and Pedro Almodóvar, Conway devoured rock, funk, and psychedelia. So their alt-pop exists at the intersection of all those influences—a blend of heartfelt bilingual lyrics and luscious sounds that makes you feel like you’re living inside a mind-expanding love story.

“It’s music that can make you authentically feel good,” says Ricky Reed, the A&R and label owner who signed the Marías to Nice Life in 2019. It was the funky lullaby “Clueless” that won him over. He first heard the song, which showcases Conway’s ear for production and Zardoya’s soft vocals, in September 2018. Their work hit hard then, but today it holds new resonance. “Making music that is dreamy is a political act right now,” Reed says. “We’re in a time where everybody wants to escape.” Collaborator Luna Li agrees. “I find María’s voice to be comforting, and the whole sonic landscape feels really welcoming,” she says of CINEMA, an album that became a pandemic balm for her. 

The Marías’ supporters say the succor translates live. It’s hard for Reed to forget the spell the band cast at Marty’s on Newport, when he first saw them perform in October 2018—how two of the women in the audience began singing Zardoya’s every word and mimicking her every move. “This was more than just a fan thing,” says Reed. It was “a spiritual connection.”

This is because the Marías’ sets are immersive, per collaborator Sven Gamsky (aka Still Woozy), who saw the band play this year at Coachella. “You don’t question what’s going on because everything is so seamless. You’re in the illusion.” 

Whether it’s an album or a show at the Greek, there’s intention behind what the Marías do. Zardoya says the band has a singular mission: to transport you out of this reality and into theirs.

“From day one,” adds Conway, “we’ve wanted the Marías’ shows to feel like an experience—to feel like more than just a band playing some songs that they wrote.”

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This story is featured in the September 2022 issue of Los Angeles

(Photographed by Beau Grealy)